||The Nature Conservancy’s Northwest Florida Program is involved in an ambitious sandhill community restoration at the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, Liberty County, Florida. In the late 1950s, the St. Joe Paper Company clear cut longleaf pines (Pinus palustris)
and pushed remaining vegetation and topsoil into windrows to establish a slash pine (Pinus elliottii) plantation. The Conservancy began its restoration in the 1980s by harvesting the off-site
slash pines and replanting longleaf. In the late 1980s, native groundcover restoration began. Initially, wiregrass plugs (Aristida stricta) were nursery-grown from hand-collected seed and
planted. This limited groundcover establishment to one species was slow and costly. Direct seeding with a mix of native groundcover seed in the field allowed for greater acreage to be sown annually with a much higher number of species and at a much lower cost. However, for
sandhill restoration to move in the appropriate direction, there must be the ability to apply the process (fire) that shapes the community. When only longleaf was planted, restoration by fire was limited due to the lack of fine fuels. The addition of wiregrass plugs allows fire to be used more frequently and under more variable climate conditions. Direct seeding allows for an even greater flexibility using fire. After the late April burns of 1999 and May 2000, wiregrass that had been direct seeded in 1996 and 1998, respectively, produced viable seed and established new seedlings. Direct seeding in conjunction with removal of the windrows has been utilized to restore native groundcover to more than 300 acres in the past few years. The Northwest Florida Program is continually working to establish and improve the structure and process for maintaining the sandhill community.